Tip of the Week

A Tip of the Week will go up every Monday by noon.

Coaches - submit your own Tips for publication!

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(Want more tips? Here are 171 more, done for the USATT website from 1999-2003, by Larry Hodges as "Dr. Ping Pong." Want even more? Here's the complete USATT archive, with the 171 by Larry as well as ones by Carl Danner from 2003-2007.)

March 4, 2019 - Be an Olympian - In Your Mind

Monday, March 4, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

If you think of yourself as an Olympian when you play, you'll play better than if you think of yourself as some scrub at a club. But how can you psychologically pretend to be an Olympian, and how does that help? Great question - and here's The Twelve Core Psychological Characteristics of Olympians from Psychology Today. I was going to write about each point, but why do that when they've already done it so well in the article?

The key question to ask yourself is this: Do you have a better chance of playing really well if you imagine yourself as a player playing really well? Once you realize that the answer there is a decided YES, go through the twelve items below, one by one, and grade yourself on how you do on each. If you get a good grade on one, good for you! If you get a bad grade on one - you know what you have to do. Here are the twelve:

  1. The ability to cope with and control anxiety. 
  2. Confidence 
  3. Mental toughness
  4. Sport intelligence
  5. The ability to focus and block out distractions
  6. Competitiveness
  7. Having a hard-work ethic
  8. The ability to set and achieve goals
  9. Coachability
  10. Hopefulness
  11. Optimism
  12. Perfectionism

Comments so far:: 3

February 25, 2019 - Top Ten Ways to Turn a Match Around

Monday, February 25, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

The first four are psychological, the rest are tactical ideas.

  1. Remember the mentality and feel of a great match you've played, and get back into that mode.
  2. Take ten seconds to stare at something in the distance to clear your mind.
  3. With nothing to lose, relax, have fun, and just play.
  4. Ignore the score and just play the next point. Repeat.
  5. Attack elbow with backhand. Most players have trouble against an aggressive shot right at their playing elbow, and the easiest way to do that is with the backhand, where you are facing the opponent and so can see his elbow. Do it over and over in rallies and watch him crumble. (Exception - if you're playing an all-out forehand attacker, then go for the wide corners.)
  6. Short no-spin serve. They are harder to push heavy, low, or short, and tend to pop up. And if the serve is very low, they are surprisingly hard to attack effectively. So serve and attack! Mix them up with backspin serves.
  7. Slow, spinny, consistent loops. Missing your loop? Then slow it down and go for lots of topspin. You'll be surprised how many players fall apart against this.
  8. Quick-push serves back wide. Can't stop the opponent's serve and attack against your push return? Are you giving him easy pushes, or are you quick-pushing the serve quick off the bounce into a wide corner? To the backhand will likely disarm him, to the forehand will likely catch him off guard. (If you have good touch and have practiced this, you can also push them short.)
  9. Stop and think about how you are winning and losing points. Then pick a winning service pattern, and one or two other tactics that will win.
  10. Talk to a coach or top player between games or in a time-out. He might see something you have not. Or just talk to anyone between games, and you'll be amazed at how talking it out makes it obvious what you need to do.

Comments so far:: 1

February 18, 2019 - Judging the Depth of a Serve

Monday, February 18, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

One of the things coaches stress is that you should be aggressive against deep serves. (A short serve means that, given a chance, the ball would bounce twice on your side; a long serve would only bounce once.) Against a short serve, you can rush and angle the server by taking the ball quick off the bounce, plus you can drop the ball short. But against a deep serve, you can't do this, so a passive return gives the server an easy attack. If the server has a weak attack, that might be okay, but in most cases, if you don't attack deep serves, you put yourself at a disadvantage as the server gets an easy attack.

But to attack the deep serves you first have to recognize that the serve is long. How do you do this?

Imagine an outfielder in baseball running down a fly ball. (Or any other sport that involves judging the trajectory of a thrown or hit ball.) He doesn't do mathematical calculations to judge where the ball will drop. He simply watches the ball as it rises, and from that, with experience, he learns to judge the arc the ball will take. And so, after time, a good outfielder can immediately run to almost exactly where the ball will drop.

It's the same thing in table tennis - not just in judging whether a serve is long, but on ANY shot. With experience, you learn to judge, as the ball is leaving the opponent's paddle, where it will go. (Advanced players take this to another level and often know where the ball is going before contact, by watching the ball and racket as they approach each other.) When an opponent serves, it's the same thing. Watch his paddle, and as the ball bounces off of it, you should be able, with practice, to almost instantly judge its trajectory. If you can do that, you'll immediately know if it's long or short.

More specifically, you'll see how fast the ball comes off the paddle, how downward it travels (which lets you know high it will bounce, which is part of the trajectory), as well as the spin. (Topspin will make it bounce out at you, and so usually goes long, while backspin slows it down, and is more likely to pull the serve short.) Advanced players can judge the depth reflexively as the ball is leaving the paddle or sooner. With practice, you should be able to do so before the ball bounces on the server's side of the table.

You do have to judge it quickly as it takes time to set up an attack. So how can you practice this? Get a coach or practice partner and have them serve to you! Ideally, have them do "half-long" serves, where the second bounce, given the chance, would either bounce very close to your end-line, or just off it. You get to judge which it is. It can be difficult to tell if a ball is going to go one inch long or short, but you should be able to judge it so that if the ball goes six inches off, you always loop it. And then four inches, and so on. Top players are masters of judging this to within an inch or so, and instantly jumping on serves that go too long.

February 11, 2019 - Wanting to Win Versus Hating to Lose

Wednesday, February 13, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

These are both great incentives in practice. Some want to win so badly that they'll practice, hour after hour, to achieve their goals. Others hate losing so much that they'll use it as incentive to train forever to avoid it. A little of both often helps.

The problem comes when you have to play a match - and that's when hating to lose becomes a problem. For some, it might help in practice, but in a match it's a quick way to choke away as you nervously play to avoid losing rather than playing to win. If you play to win, then you'll focus on doing what's needed to win, and you'll be so focused on that that you won't even think about losing, and so won't get nervous or choke.

Where are you on the "Want to Win" vs. "Hate to Lose" spectrum? Here's a simple test. If, at the instant that you lose a close match, you are surprised, that means you were focused on winning, which is what you want. If, however, you are not surprised at that instant, you were focused on not losing, and that very type of thinking might be what brought on the loss.

Comments so far:: 1

February 4, 2019 - Straighten the Belt and the Rest Falls into Place

Monday, February 4, 2019
by: Larry Hodges

Imagine when playing that your body is a belt. If your feet are in the wrong position, or if your grip is off, then it affects everything in between. If your foot positioning and grip are both correct, then like a belt that's been straightened, everything in between falls into place. Isn't that a great analogy?

As a coach, I've noticed that most technique problems come from improper foot positioning or grip problems, although many players (and some coaches) often treat the symptoms instead of the root cause. When you fix the root cause - often the two ends, i.e. the foot position and grip - the rest often falls into place. Not always - longtime problems with foot positioning and grip can create bad habits, and they can be hard to break. But getting the two ends right is a great step in that direction, and one of the top priorities with new players so they develop good technique from the start.